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To “we” or not to “we”? November 17, 2013

To we or not to we?You know that moment a friend reveals an annoying habit in your favorite TV character, then all the sudden, you can’t focus on anything else? I did that to myself the other day.

I was sending emails requesting help on a marketing campaign last week and noticed I constantly said “we” instead of “I”, despite the fact that it was originally my idea and I was the only person doing the work. I was not bitter about that part of it, I was excited for my project; I was annoyed with myself for not taking credit for my ideas and work. It was something that I became more conscious of as the week went on and I interacted with others and sent more emails. Why couldn’t I take ownership for a project  that I was proud and excited to initiate?

So, being the word nerd that I am, I began self-reflecting on what I felt was a problem beyond just swapping pronouns. “We” is an inclusive, plural pronoun and involves other people. “I” is about the individual; a person that does something alone. That in mind, I came up with a few theories behind my choice of words.

Theory 1: I truly am a team player. By choosing “we” I am giving others credit and sharing successes together. To use “I” over “we” seems selfish because I did ask someone else a question, which, thereby involves them in the project, no matter how small that seems. I really can’t take 100% credit for something if I am only responsible for 98% of the idea.

Theory 2: By choosing “I”, I take sole ownership of the success or fail of the project. Choosing “we” shows that I am afraid of being responsible, especially if the campaign should happen to fail.

Theory 3: I want to include others to improve my bargaining power. I can succeed better by name dropping, as someone might do to get into a cool club. As a new employee with other teammates all across the nation, the other employees resonate better with a name they recognize and have met, rather than a name they have only seen on a paper or email introduction.

Theory 4: “We” is a vindication for my idea and a reminder that I have support in my project or idea. “I had this idea and we are doing it!”

I’m guilty of each of these. I completely made each theory up, but it’s been helpful to self-reflect and analyze my motive behind my pronoun choice. I realize that I have to be a huge nerd to write an entire blog post about two pronouns, but when I stepped back and considered why I was doing what I was doing in conversations, it opened up my eyes.

Being a team player is definitely a great attribute, but I’d encourage you to do your own self-analysis to discover if you, like me, have a tendency to sacrifice yourself for any of the reasons I mentioned. There are situations in which choosing the inclusive term is appropriate, but I’d bet if you consciously think about whether it’s necessary to include others in your communication, you’d find more opportunities for “I” than you’d think.

I was curious to see if any research had been done on this subject, but had no exact match. I thought someone would suggest my habit was because I am a millennial (the world is hating on millennials these days) or maybe they’d suggest it was because I am a woman. Help ease my mind and tell me what you think. Have you ever noticed that you might be selling yourself short?



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